Tres Luises, dos Javieres y un Juan

El Calafate, Argentina

In venture capital, we have a term for start-up companies with a promising, yet highly limited product or service — they’re called one-trick ponies. If El Calafate were a new venture, it would clearly fall into this category. But what a one-trick pony it would be.

Our wake-up call came at 6:30 a.m. this morning. Still groggy after a whiskey nightcap with some well-traveled Brits at the hotel bar, we opened our shutters to a sun that was just starting to break across the horizon. Rebelde had a simple breakfast, just some café con leche and a croissant, before the bus picked us up for our trip to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, and the awe-inspiring Perito Moreno Glacier.

We had signed up for the “Big Ice” tour with Hielo y Aventura, which I’d read was well worth the steep AR$520 price tag. The hour-long trip to the park entrance brought us past desolate estancias, ranches long used for raising sheep. We paid the entrance fee and then made our way for our first look at Perito Moreno, which is 260 square kilometers in size. A series of nearly empty catwalks provided a tremendous introduction.


We watched as huge hunks of ice calved off the glacier face and splashed down into the Canal de los Témpanos (Iceberg Channel). The serene rumbling — truly witnessing Mother Nature at work — begged for a moment of contemplation.


The bus took us down to the port of Bajo de las Sombras, where a boat whisked us across the Rico Arm. Seeing the glacier from the water provided us with a whole new appreciation for its tremendous size — heights of 110 meters at some points — and made our tour boats look like toys. Can you spot the one below?


We were met at the shore, brought up to a base camp and introduced to our six guides: Luis, Luis, Luis, Javier, Javier and Juan. “Tres Luises, dos Javieres y un Juan,” Burt said. “That’s original.” The team then outfitted us with harnesses and gave us pairs of crampons before we began our trek, passing waterfalls and wild flowers, onto the moraine, the edge of the glacier.


After about 45-minutes, it was time to tie on our crampons and begin the 4-hour ice trek. They provided amazing stability and allowed for easy movement across the otherwise slippery surface.


Our destination was the glacier’s center. Under absolutely beautiful skies, we passed deep crevasses, jagged ice peaks frozen in time and unbelievably blue lagoons — one of which offered an opportunity to fill up my CamelBak with clear, freezing cold and delicious glacial water.


Toward the end of the trek, we stopped at a 100-meter deep gorge where a tremendous river of runoff flowed. On belay, we all (Burt included) got a near-death peak over the edge.


Feet starting to ache, we made our way back to the moraine, removed the crampons and walked back to the base camp. Back on the boat, we got a final look at the truly massive Perito Moreno, before clinking back whiskeys with hunks of glacier ice floating in them.


The day was not without its mishaps. My poor Kangol hat was whipped out to sea shortly after this picture was taken (may it RIP). Burt also forecasted some intense foot soreness from an afternoon with the crampons. And, my not reapplying sunscreen (sorry Grandma), coupled with wearing sunglasses on the ice, would result in some serious raccoon eyes. But still, it was well worth it.

Back at Rebelde, we had some down time before dinner at another parrilla, Mi Viejo. There were Patagonian lambs of barbecue roasting in the front window — it worked on bringing us in. The meat was tender and we were more than overjoyed when the cap of our saltshaker fell off while spicing up our fries. More salt, no problem!

Burt claimed that the best part of the lamb was its cheeks, which was gladly ceded to him. “Tasty, me gustan,” he said, chomping down on them. But we couldn’t linger long. Our flight to Ushuaia was early the next day and we still had to pack.

In Patagonia

El Calafate, Argentina

My commuter flight from Raleigh to Atlanta was packed with briefcase-toting businessmen. My subsequent flight from Atlanta to Buenos Aires was filled with Japanese tourists and Christian missionaries, one of which sat behind me and proceeded to spend most of the 10-hour journey attempting to proselytize his seatmate. The food was mediocre and my plan to finally watch Slumdog Millionaire was dashed when it quickly came to my attention that Delta doesn’t have personal entertainment centers on its international flights. Guess you get what you pay for — although Air France proved in December that great service at reasonable fares does exist. Maybe only in France?

The trip’s saving grace was the emergency exit aisle seat that was somehow assigned to me. Maybe it was a miracle granted from the missionaries — I’m not sure — although it’s amazing what an additional 6 inches of legroom did on a 5,200-mile overnight trip.

Wheels were down in Buenos at around 7:45 a.m. My last experience at this airport was a complete nightmare; after arriving 2.5 hours early, we nearly missed our flight due to lines at the security checkpoint. Wanting to avoid this, it was a hustle to Terminal A to check-in, and then a healthy walk back to Terminal B, where the flight was departing from. My ticket said boarding would start at 9:25 a.m. The security checkpoint didn’t open until 10:25 a.m. Needless to say, we had a delayed departure — but at least we got out before Aerolineas Argentinas was nationalized.

My disappointment of not spending any time in Buenos Aires was erased as we began our final approach into El Calafate. Jagged snow-capped mountains sat majestically at the end of sprawling and desolate plains. Majestic blue glacial lakes spotted the landscape. And, as indicated by the bumpy ride down, the Patagonian winds were certainly blowing.

A 30-minute shuttle brought me from the airport to Patagonia Rebelde, our base for the next two nights. It’s a relatively new hosteria — part hostel, part hotel, part B&B — that was built and furnished in such a way that it looks like a remnant of last century.


Our room, #254, was small and simple, with sweeping views of the surrounding plains and Lago Argentino in the backdrop.


Burt arrived about an hour later (burned to a crisp from his stay in Iguazu and having lost his bank card — again) and we set out to explore this small town, which has an alpine-village feel. The main road, Avenida Libertador, is lined with restaurants, bars and stores selling outdoor wear.


We had a couple of beers at a café while a local musician jammed out and the sun showed no signs of setting — during summer, it doesn’t until after 10 p.m., if not later.


We headed back to Rebelde, showered up and set out for dinner at Casimiro Bigua Parilla, what looked like the most upscale and trendy spot in town. We ordered a big salad, two medium-rare rib-eye steaks and a side order of Spanish fries, spiced with garlic. Washed down with a bottle of malbec from Mendoza, it could not have gotten much better.

Exhausted from the 7,000 mile, 24-hour journey down here, we headed back to the hotel. Earlier in the day, I’d been reading Bruce Chatwin’s epic novel, In Patagonia. And, drifting off to sleep with stray dogs barking in the distance, one poignant paragraph came to mind.

“Patagonia is the farthest place to which man walked from his place of origins. It is therefore a symbol of his restlessness,” he writes. “From its discovery it had the effect on the imagination something like the Moon, but in my opinion more powerful.”

Packing for Patagonia

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Planning a trip to the End of the World was relatively simple. As for packing, that’s a whole other story.

This afternoon, I’m leaving on a two-week journey into the heart of Patagonia — one of the world’s last, great, untouched frontiers. It is a harsh, wild and stark place. After connecting through Atlanta and Buenos Aires, I’ll meet Burt in El Calafate, Argentina, home to the Perito Moreno Glacier, before making my way further south to Ushuaia, which is the acclaimed southernmost city in the world. After a couple of days of exploring Tierra del Fuego, hiking in the National Park and kayaking the Beagle Channel, we’ll hop on a short flight to Punta Arenas, Chile. From there, we’ll join up with Cascada Expediciones, named one of the best adventure travel companies by National Geographic, for a 7-night trek along the classic “W” route in Torres del Paine National Park, during which time we’ll base out of EcoCamp. This will be followed by an exhausting return trip to the States, via Santiago and Atlanta, that will take upward of 24 hours. I’m scheduled back at RDU at 8:50 a.m. on March 10.

The extreme weather in the remote lands of Patagonia has made packing for this trip more than complicated. The area’s vastness, coupled with its proximity to the Antarctic, subjects the region to highly unpredictable weather patterns. Although we’ll be there toward the end of South America’s summer, temperatures can still range from the low-30s to mid-70s. Snow is not uncommon. And then there is the wind, with gusts topping out at 80 mph. Couple all of this with stringent weight restrictions for internal flights, and you start to see how important a Patagonia packing list really is.

After plenty of research (both online and at several outdoor stores) as well as conversations with friends who had recently visisted, I’ve come up with a list of essentials. It’s comprised of high-quality, layered, versatile clothing that will allow me to easily adapt to nearly any climate. What’s with all the Patagonia gear, you say? Simply put, they make some of the best clothing, are strongly committed to the environment and had a great sale last month. Plus, you can’t go wrong wearing Patagonia in Patagonia. At least I hope not.

Here’s what’s going on my back:

And this is what it all looks like.


Stuffed into Eagle Creek Compressions Sacs makes it much more manageable.


And then, finally, a shot of it all shoved into my new (but recycled!) Osprey React Backpack and my travel standby North Face Backtrack 70 (readers of this blog will recognize it from my trip around the world in 80 days).


Next stop: Patagonia!